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This review is from: Become What You Are (Audio CD)
In 1993, Hatfield's friend and former bandmate, Lemonhead Evan Dando, was flopping about at festivals, wearing dresses and being the NME's darling, and jangly American indie guitar rock was in. And Hatfield was really the only female in her field, so she really shouldn't have found it so hard to break through in the UK at a time when Throwing Muses and Belly were having top 10 albums.
Unfortunately, the press was a little too preoccupied with Hatfield's proclaimed virginity and relationship with Dando to give the music a proper listen. Shame, because Become What You Are - recorded as the Juliana Hatfield Three with bassist Dean Fisher and drummer Todd Phillips - is a simple and brilliant record that she's yet to match.
Much has been made of Hatfield rarely going beyond the lines of her stock template. Granted, a cursory or superficial listen to Become What You Are could leave you thinking one song sounds much like another, but the unfussy formula works well enough to warrant many repeated listens. And no song outstays its welcome. Lyrically, she's at her strongest on this set: confessional, witty and on the right side of obscure.
The opening track, Supermodel, is a catty dig at the transitory careers of overpaid catwalk stars ("the highest paid piece of ass, you know it's not gonna last...), while the girly Hatfield is at play on My Sister, describing the love/hate relationship with a fictional sibling ("I would do anything to let her know I care, but I am only talking to myself cos she isn't there"). Her wry lyrics are matched at every corner with strong hooks and basslines.
Hatfield's cutesy/tough-girl act continues in equal measures: the deliciously venomous and punchy A Dame With A Rod, on which Hatfield avenges an attack on a woman ("You're gonna rot in the ground"), sits next to the unworldly girl on Feeling Massachussetts ("Take me somewhere I really wanna go... introduce me to someone really cool"). Hatfield does twee best on Spin The Bottle, although it's a bit of a throwaway moment, a clumsy time signature and her vocal's sounding not unlike she's just inhaled a helium balloon. We should assume Hatfield wasn't taking her own story about kissing movie stars in closets at parties too seriously. It is nevertheless the most commercial cut and, given the right promotional push, could have been a hit, although it's appearance on the Reality Bites soundtrack did give it a new airing.
Standout track President Garfield - allegedly an ode to rocker Henry Rollins - is almost two songs in one: the first two minutes a slow, contemplative amble down the streets of Washington, the latter half a bass-heavy brooding review of the hero ("Neck like a tyre, iron man...I'm only human, I am weak, I want his power inside of me"). Things get darker still on the closing I Got No Idols, an intense, two-minute lament from a woman eager to stand on her own too feet.
But the record went hugely underbought, of course. For the follow up 18 months later, Hatfield was solo and with a little more angst on her plate for Only Everything. A solid set, it was more varied than Become, and could have been its equal had Fleur De Lys, Dumb Fun and Dying Proof fell on the cutting-room floor. 1998's Bed was a disappointing affair, while 2000's double whammy - the acoustic Beautiful Creature and the aggressive Total System Failure - would have been better as one, shorter album. 2004's In Exile Deo is unlikely to turn the sales tide, and she seems to have spent the last couple of years listening to Sheryl Crow records. Presumably the innocence and simplicity of early material doesn't sit comfortably with a woman in her late thirties.
Hatfield will make more great records, but the quality of Become What You Are and much of former band The Blake Babies' output seems an awfully long time ago now.